No one has it coming. This concept, that if someone hurts our religious or political sentiments, one can respond with physical violence, is not brave or just – it is savagery at its worst.
The mob lynching of Mashal Khan, who by all measures was a smart, critical and patriotic Pakistani, happened at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, which has already been a hotbed of extremist activity in the past. The student was being targeted for days now. This wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction of a mob, this was planned by the murders with the knowledge, that in the face of their bigoted righteousness, there would be no objection to their violence – not from their peers, nor from their superiors.
Pakistan’s universities have become home to young thugs and murderers. On March 21, during a Pashtun cultural event, activists of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) attacked the participants and set the place on fire. In 2015, students belonging to IJT attacked female students who were playing cricket in Karachi University. In October 2011, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) student wing carried out the ‘million man march’ in Lahore despite Punjab University authorities denying it permission. The Punjab government refused to do anything to stop the event which featured JI Chief Munawar Hassan stating that the youth must get ready for Jihad and that a million Osamas would emerge from the Muslim world if the US did not stop its ‘anti-Islam’ policies. In 2015, a student of Punjab University allegedly told university authorities at a disciplinary hearing that he considered slain Taliban chieftains Nek Muhammad and Baitullah Mehsud to be his leaders and intended to avenge their deaths. The student was a member of Pashtun Educational Development Movement, a Punjab University student association.
Education, sadly, is now an enabler of violence given the Islamisation process Pakistani textbooks underwent in the 1980s to promote religion as the nation’s only identity. The stratified school systems – elite private schools, public schools and non-elite private schools, and madrassas provide distinct environments, potentially creating fresh fault lines. Academic textbooks used in Pakistani public schools that cater to three-fourths of school-going children, have been a matter of intense controversy. Subjects like Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat deliberately try to eulogise the concept of violent jihad and create exclusionary mindsets. The Pakistani state that is supposedly responsible for human development of its young citizens, has created an uncritical army of violent men with no market to absorb their radical talents.
This is not just about the blasphemy laws that have shattered our society’s capacity for debate, forgiveness and justice, but about a nationally accepted behaviour, that “my feelings matter more than your life”. This goes deeper than the law, it permeates education and social interaction – weeding it out will be painful and expensive.